Paradigm, No. 12 (December, 1993)

The Textbook as a Commodity:
Walkingame’s TheT utor’s Assistant

Ian Michael
9 Cornwallis House
Cornwallis Grove
Bristol BS8 4PG


My eye was recently caught by a page in the printed catalogue of the British Library where were listed the various editions of The Tutor’s Assistant (1751), by Francis Walkingame (1723-1783). Not only was the number of editions noticeable but, even more, the number of different editors and publishers. Is The Tutor’s Assistant (TA) an example, and a fairly early one, of a textbook which becomes a much marketed commodity? What happened to a book after it had been revised by many hands and published by many different firms? Was this an aspect of the development of textbooks which was worth looking into?

TA is a well-known book and its publishing history has already been looked at by P. J. Wallis (The Mathematical Gazette, 47 [1963] pp. 199-208, following up his earlier article in Notes and Queries, 201 [June, 1956] pp. 258-261). Describing what he himself called a best-seller, Wallis discussed the number of editions and revising editors, but as evidence of the book’s popularity: a popularity which, he said, had actually delayed the development of mathematics teaching. The questions in my mind were rather different. It might still be worthwhile to build on Wallis’s work, especially as more editions of TA are now known, and to ask whether its history, if studied in detail, would illustrate the ‘commodity’ aspect of a popular textbook. I am not offering that study, only evidence that the life-history of such a book (and there are many of them) might throw fresh light on educational and economic aspects of book production of interest to the historian.

The data which Wallis presented were sufficient to establish the point he was making; for a fuller survey of what was done to TA, and for a complete life history, if that was possible, it would be necessary to rearrange and supplement Wallis’s material. His 1963 paper did not include all the data given in his 1956 one; because he was looking at TA from a particular point of view he had not always distinguished between editions of TA, separate keys to TA, and editions which combined revisions and keys in one volume. Although Wallis had been aware of the variety of publishers it had been no part of his purpose to describe the complexity of their interconnections nor to relate every edition to its publisher. Furthermore, early library catalogues, including BL, did not record the publishers. Even a partial arrangement took longer than I had wanted, but the information was fuller and more interesting than was expected, and encouraged me to add something to it. What follows is offered as evidence that TA is worth studying as an example of a textbook which, in becoming a commercial commodity, tends to lose its identity. In what sense did the book remain the same? What did the various publishers think they were buying, or appropriating, and how did they proceed?

Instead of approaching the book through its contents I have asked how it was treated. There are several answers. Those which follow are based only on the information immediately available and quickly gathered. I have omitted the qualifications which are needed throughout: most numbers are approximate; most general statements must be limited by the restricted data, which come, substantially, from Wallis. I have not attempted any estimate of the number of copies sold.

TA was:

a. Reprinted, often incorporating anonymous revisions.

b. Revised by a named editor.

c. Accompanied by a key, separately published.

d. Accompanied by a volume of questions and exercises by a different author.

e. Combined in one volume with another work, by a different author.

f. Imitated.

g. Made fun of.

h. Published by a variety of houses.









A. Editions often incorporating anonymous additions and revisions

Between 1751 and 1832 there were 71 such numbered editions. Editions by named revisers seem to have been numbered separately or, eventually, unnumbered (but see John Fraser, below, B). There is no indication that the numbering is deceitful but many editions are known only by a reference to their dates and we do not know whether or not they were numbered.

B. Editions by named revisers

Between 1792 and 1882 there were at least 165 editions by 30 named revisers. This is surprising and deserves some detail: the names of the revisers, the number of editions so far recorded, and the dates of the earliest and latest recorded editions.




William Taylor



Thomas Crosby



Three other editions, 1854,1861, and 1880 may be Crosby’s. The editions of 1854 and 1861 are both numbered 179.

R. Richards (He may have been the publisher.)



James Falconar



James Harris



Daniel T. Sheridan



Thomas (or Anthony) Peacock


ante. 1809-1813

J. Evans



C. Pearson



Robert Fraiter



Richard Langford



Joseph Guy


a. 1823-1855

William Birkin



John Fraser


a. 1832-1844

J. W. Taplin


a. 1835

R. H. Nicholls (revising Taplin)



Thomas Smith (Liverpool)



John Little



Thomas Smith (Cambridge)



Nevertheless, the editions of 1843 and 1844 are numbered respectively 48 and 49.

Robert Cullen


a, 1843

Edwin Barker



Samuel Maynard (revising Taylor)



Samuel Maynard






John Radford Young



Isaac Butler



Roscoe Mongan



Ebenezer Lethbridge



W. Watson named without dates by Wallis.

Savage named without dates by Wallis.

Of these thirty revisers fourteen are at present recorded as having published only one edition. Even if some further editions are identified questions remain about the conditions which made possible, or worthwhile, so many revisers in so few editions. The number of revisers; is of course related to the number of publishers. There is no advantage in speculating at this stage about the number of editions of TA in its various forms. All that can be said is this slight expansion of Wallis’s enquiry shows evidence (ignoring the implications of the duplicate 179th editions and Thomas Smith’s 49th) of over two hundred editions. Many more could probably be found. It is the relation between editions, revisers and publishers, not just the number of editions, which would be of particular interest.

C. Keys

If an arithmetic text is accompanied by a book of answers, editions of the key have to keep in step with editions of the text. Information about these keys is likely to be scrappy as keys, once separated from their texts, are especially perishable. Nineteen revisers; of TA produced keys, but there must have been many more editions than those noted here.













T. Hewitt






W. H. White (key to Taylor)









Smith (Cambridge)






John Mitchell






J. Butler



Guy; Nicholls; Taplin; Barker, J. Black; Mongan are named by Wallis without dates.

D. Exercises

It was not uncommon for a textbook to be reinforced, pedagogically and commercially, by a book of exercises based on it. Such is William Birkin’s Examining questions in arithmetic adapted to Birkin’s improved edition of Walkingame’s Tutor’s Assistant, advertised in 1848.

E. Double works

Similar reinforcement was attempted by publishing within the same cover two books of related technical interest. TA was so combined with James Harris, A short treatise upon book-keeping by simple entry, 1817, Isaac Fisher, A compendium of book-keeping. (There were five editions 1826-1846, but it is possible that some of these are revisions by Fisher of TA and may or may not be accompanied by his own Compendium); Eneas Mackenzie, Mental arithmetic, 1856. An abridgment of Thomas Smith’s Introduction to Algebra was included in some editions of Smith’s revisions of TA.

F. Imitated as in James Harris’s Algebra for the use of schools, upon the plan of Walkingame’s Arithmetic, c. 1817, and perhaps in William Taylor’s Arithmetician’s guide, which seems to be closely related to TA; it had three editions between 1793 and 1801.

G. Fun was made of, or had with, TA by Arthur Henry Forrester in The teacher’s assistant: or comic figures of arithmetic slightly altered and elucidated from Walking-game, 1843.

H. From Publisher to Publisher

The changes within publishing houses, and the relations between them, are far too complicated for the amateur to discuss. But from the variety of firms associated with TA it is apparent that these relationships are of prime importance to its status as a marketable commodity. The long list of publishers points to what is perhaps the central question: at any given stage in the marketing of the book what was the balance between educational and non-educational factors?

That educational factors were not always dominant is clear from Wallis’s view (1963, p. 208) that the popularity of TA delayed the improvement of mathematics teaching. If such a delay can be caused by a book revised, during ninety years, more than thirty times and issued over many publishers’ names, some powerful conservative force must surely be at work. An expansion of Wallis’s list, but still restricted to immediately available information, produces, in roughly chronological order, the following publishers:

D. Browne; W. Reeve; Benjamin Dod; Edward Johnson; James Scatcherd; M. Swinney (Birmingham); George Nicholson (Manchester); G. Binns (Leeds); Miller, Law, Cater & T. Wilson; Spencer & Mawman (York); Henry Mozley (Gainsborough & Derby); Edward Walker (Newcastle-upon-Tyne); R. & W. Dean (Manchester); L.Nicholls; Whittingham & Rowland; Pinnock & Maunder, Cradock & Joy; G. B. Whittaker; Thomas Richardson (Derby); William Clowes; Longman, Rees & Orme; Allman; Milner & Sowerby (Halifax); Webb, Millington (Leeds).

Wallis says that Scatcherd alone combined with eleven other publishers: Law; Darton; Baldwin; Walker; Rivington; Black, Whittaker; Cadell; Baker; Simpkin; Letterman.

Did TA achieve its commercial success because of, or in spite of, its thirty revisers? Most of these revisers seem to have been teachers. How were they recruited? If TA was being treated as a commodity on what terms was it transferred from publisher to publisher, pirated or speciously adapted? What educational consequences followed from the commercial treatment of the book?

It is of course easy to throw such questions into the air. They are important, and could be asked about popular textbooks in any subject. We do not however yet know how best to organise the search for answers. The current expansion of bibliographical information helps us to compile lists of textbooks, and before long we shall have a database containing all the necessary information, together with library locations and, with the help of local historians, some knowledge even of obscure authors. Given, as we are promised, access to any text, we will then be free to consider what questions we should ask; but it would be better to start thinking now. The historical study of textbooks needs a methodology.


Select Bibliography


Richard D. Altick, The English Common Reader 1800-1900 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957).

Nicholas Beattie, Nineteenth century foreign-language text books; Observations and speculations. Modern Languages, 61 (1980), pp. 81-88.

J. L. Dobson, The Teaching of history in English grammar schools and private schools 1830-70. Durham Research Review, 8 (1957), pp. 129-141.

W. Flemming, The Teaching of arithmetic. Educational Review, 11 (1959), pp. 176-191.

G. H. Harper, Textbooks: an under-used source. History of Education Society Bulletin, 25 (Spring, 1980), pp. 30-40.

H. B. Hodgson, Notes on the history of the teaching of Geography. Geography, 13 (1937).

Peter Horner, The teaching of reading in England up to 1870. Reading Review, 2 (1) (1959), pp. 3-10.

G. Howat, The nineteenth century history textbook. British Journal of Educational Studies, 13 (2) (May. 1965), pp. 147-158.

H. E. H. McHugh, A study of history as a school subject in Ireland in the nineteenth century with special reference to (1) public and private attitudes towards the teaching of history, (2) the range and content of history books used in the schools, (3) methods and teaching and examining in the subject. M.A. dissertation, Queens University of Belfast, 1978.

Ian Michael, The historical study of English as a subject: a preliminary enquiry into some questions of method. History of Education, 8 (1979), pp. 193-206.

John Roach, History teaching and examining in secondary schools, 1850-1900. History of Education, 5 (1976) pp. 127-140.

J. E. Vaughan, Aspects of teaching Geography in England in the early nineteenth century. Paedagogica Historica, 12 (1972) pp. 128-147.


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